BY JESSICA CASTILLO
Photo courtesy of A Golden State
Nishant Reddy wants to develop really good cannabis. But he also wants to give back every step of the way.
Through his companies — the cannabis brand A Golden State and the cannabis investment firm Satya Capital — he sees nothing but opportunity for radical transparency as an industry leader. “As part of our operating agreements, we have social justice committees which are made up of minority leaders from the communities to ensure that our business is being held accountable and reinvesting the dollars back into communities [in which we operate],” he tells Ember. “That's something we don't need to do, but I want to be held accountable. I want to have that level of transparency because this is something that's extremely personal and relatable.”
As a person of color working in cannabis, and as someone who has worked on Wall Street, he knows firsthand the varying stigmas surrounding cannabis that exist to this day. He’s looking to upend the stereotypes that people still have about the plant and its benefits — and that includes working directly with lawmakers to craft radically equitable legislation. That’s why A Golden State is partnering with the ACLU of Southern California to further the get out the vote effort and educate would-be voters about cannabis in general.
We caught up with the founder to discuss the new partnership, what he believes people still get wrong about using cannabis, and why anyone working in cannabis has an obligation to pay it forward.
On his early relationship with cannabis:
In my 20s, when I was an investment banker and then working in private equity in New York, I started experimenting with the medicinal properties of cannabis. I saw how I could use it to complement the intense demand of my work schedule and the fast-paced New York City lifestyle. Unfortunately, this was the early to mid-2000s, and cannabis was still very stigmatized. It's not like I could tell my bosses, “Hey, I'm crushing it at work and then I'm going to go home and smoke a joint so I have amazing sleep and feel fresh tomorrow.”
Through that journey, it allowed me to understand how cannabis can be used to complement that kind of lifestyle. I could deal with insomnia, treat stress and anxiety, and feel a hundred percent. And if I wanted to use it recreationally, I could do that too. That's when the light bulb went off for me that there's so much more to this plant than people realize.
On his a-ha moment to start a cannabis brand:
When you become an adult, you start investing in the things that are good for you, whether it's eating well or joining a gym. To me, cannabis is no different and I wanted to create a brand that I was proud to use that also fit into my wellness-based lifestyle. I didn't think that existed yet and so it became the vision for A Golden State.
We've been doing this in California for years so our name pays homage to our roots. And secondly, the idea of a golden state is something that is relative and inclusive of everyone. For me, it might be an amazing powder day on my skis but for someone else it’s having a cup of coffee and reading a book by a fireplace. It's all relative, and we can all appreciate and enjoy that.
On the strains he leans toward:
I like to be more high energy and active, my mind is always racing and that's just my natural state, so I personally lean towards sativas that enhance that for me. I really like Woods, which is more of a high-energy, creative sativa. One of my favorite comedians reached out to us on Instagram and told us that he smokes Woods when he's writing new movies, and that's truly to me what that strain embodies. It’s for people who are just trying to get the creative juices flowing and who want to feel high energy.
On what people get wrong about working in cannabis:
I'm very open about my consumption habits because having those conversations helps people understand their own journeys. You could smoke every day (and people assume those who work in this industry do) but my habits change depending on my needs — it’s the same for others. For a mom or a baby boomer who’s dealing with pain, consumption could mean experimenting and seeing how the plant could complement their lifestyle. And it doesn't always mean smoking: It could be an edible or a topical CBD — there's so much potential! But I think it starts with allowing people to have conversations in a safe place and then creating situations where it's relatable to them.
On taking what he’s learned about cannabis to the federal legislature:
Through our company Satya Capital, my business partner, Simmon Saraf, and I are advising Senator Cory Booker and his office both at the state level in New Jersey as well as the federal level. How should proper marijuana legislation be written? What is the right policy? How do we build a framework at the government level so that we're actually being inclusive and thinking about social equity and social justice?
It starts with having a conversation and informing leaders on cannabis and how licenses should be issued or where the pitfalls are. If the states don't get that right, then it's really hard to create a framework that is actually conducive to social justice. The conversation can quickly shift to taxes and profits, not about helping the less fortunate or reversing unfair policing around cannabis.
As the cannabis industry, we have the opportunity to profit and make a livelihood by legally growing and selling cannabis while other people literally rot in jail for the exact same thing. Unfortunately, the majority of those people are Black and Latinx, and that’s really unfair. You can't ignore that.
On forging a partnership with the ACLU through A Golden State:
We're at a pivotal time in this country's history. We've been doing initiatives for many years, whether it's expungement clinics in various states, or how through our license applications we've pledged that up to 10% of our workforce will be people who were unfairly prosecuted or imprisoned for cannabis infractions. The ACLU was just the next phase of that: We made a list of everything that we cared about and could potentially help make impactful change, and one of those things was the election. We reached out to the ACLU and forged a partnership so that our brand ambassadors are going to be committing all of their hours to helping inform people and getting them out to vote, instead of being on the street promoting sales for A Golden State. It's great to be able to give everyone a platform to do that.
On why the work doesn’t end on November 4:
This is a drop in the bucket. We're in chapter one of cannabis legalization and how this country uses cannabis. It's the responsibility of every single cannabis owner, operator, and founder to be paying attention. Regardless of whether or not some of these larger issues are relatable to you, you can't ignore them. I want us to explore and figure out how we can make impactful social change in the country through legalization. I think social equity programs are no different.
After the elections happen, it doesn't stop right there. How do we bring in more minorities to participate in the cannabis industry? How do we bring more women to participate in that industry? And it's not just about giving social equity licenses, but it could be getting funding. Maybe it's creating a scholarship program. Maybe it's an internship program. The beauty of the cannabis industry is you don't need to be a licensed holder to benefit. We need heating and air conditioning techs, as well as retail salespeople, compliance people, HR people, and security guards. There are so many ways you can help people from underprivileged communities land on their feet and have a chance to prosper through legalization.